City Manager Lynch is not present tonight. Also absent is Councilor Leahy.
At the request of the council, representatives of Verizon and National Grid, the two corporations responsible for “double poles” in the city and the delay in getting them fixed. Councilors express their frustration with the corporate reps, starting with Rita Mercier, then Bill Martin. It seems that one of the causes of delays is the each entity that has wires on the poles – electric, telephone, cable, fire alarms – has to sequentially remove its wires from the damaged pole and attach to the replacement pole. This approach has many possibilities for delays. Another problem is the information flow into and between the companies. The company does not have a time goal for replacing the poles. The current state statute gives 90 days “per attachee” which means if there are 4 wires on a pole, they legally have a year to act on it.
[The councilors seem to have not heard the “per attachee” part of that answer and are treating it like the statutory requirement is 90 days period. Reading between the lines, this is nothing but an opportunity for the councilors on behalf of the residents to vent about this. Not until state law tightens the deadlines and imposes substantial penalties on non-compliance will this situation improve. But it’s easier to kill legislation than to enact it and these companies undoubtedly spend plenty on lobbyists who prevent any meaningful (for the consumer) changes in the law].
The company representatives agree to provide a quarterly update report to the council. One of them says that if someone with a double pole in front of his home is especially angry about it, let them know and they’ll put that higher on the priority list. [So if you have a double pole you want fixed, make yourself a real pain in the a** about it and it will get fixed sooner],
Moore Street Zoning Change
The developer requests a zoning change so that he can demolish school the old Sacred Heart School (which was built in 1968), remove the asphalt paving in the parking lot, subdivide and build a number of duplexes (six???) on the resulting lots. No one speaks in opposition to the proposal (which will still go before the planning board assuming this is allowed). Zoning change passes 8 to 0.
Resolution Supporting Paid Sick Time
There’s a resolution by the council to support pending state legislation establishing earned paid sick time. Councilor Mercier says she won’t say whether she is for it or against it because she wants to get more information from small businesses on its effect on them so she wants to refer it to a subcommittee. Mayor Murphy relinquishes the chair to speak in favor of the resolution. He says the legislation, copies of which he has twice provided to the council, clearly states who will be effected. He says this bill is to benefit the lowest paid workers in our society, those who are at risk of being fired if they get the flu and miss work. Councilor Kennedy says that there are a large number of people in Massachusetts who confront the dilemma of going to work sick or missing work. He supports the legislation but it also is worth taking a closer look at its ramifications and making it understandable to everyone on the city council. “Everyone should understand what they are voting on and why.” Council Martin says there is enough division within the council chamber on issues within the control of the council so he thinks it unwise to take on issues like this that are beyond the purview of the council. That said, he says the issue came up at candidate forums so the council should probably address this one. He says he will support it and is ready to vote on it. Councilor Lorrey says he supports both bills but will support sending it to the subcommittee if that’s what some of the councilors want. Motion to refer to subcommittee passes 6 to 2.
Report of Zoning Subcommittee
They met earlier tonight on the zoning change on Rogers Street. The outcome of that meeting was to recommend further delay to study it further and look for a mutually agreeable solution. Councilor Elliott says he will not support the delay, that he is ready to take a vote on it tonight. Councilor Martin responds, saying it’s not a delay for delay’s sake and that the neighbors who support it who spoke at the committee nearly all expressed an interest in seeking a better solution. Martin says a “more considered” approach would be beneficial for everyone. Councilor Kennedy says it’s better to be more deliberative and do it correctly rather than to do it quickly. Motion to send back to subcommittee passes 7 to 1 (Elliott opposed).
Councilor Mercier: express views on retirement board voting to obtain repayment from widow of deceased planning board member who incorrectly received retirement benefits through no fault of his own. Councilor Mercier is critical of the planning board seeking this reimbursement. Says it’s up to the city manager to make the final decision and that decision should be to allow her to keep the money. She says she is totally embarrassed and the city should do the right thing. She speculates that this is just an attempt to gain leverage over the widow, presenting her the option of not filing an appeal for future pension benefits and keeping the money that has been paid thus far or insist on filing the appeal and we’ll make you repay the money. Councilor Martin says that the notion of trying to recover payments made in error seems unfair. The Auditor (who is on the Retirement Board) interjects that the board cannot grant a waiver until one is requested. One has now been filed, the board will be voting on it soon, and that she intends to vote in favor of the waiver. Councilor Kennedy cites this case, the Walter Bayliss case, and probably other less well known ones in which the city, years ago, gave advice to individuals who relied on that advice only to have a subsequent retirement board uncover the error but rather than having the retirement board suffer the loss because of its negligence, it would be better to have the city be bound by the past commitments even if those commitments are later found out to be illegal. Councilor Elliott commends Councilor Mercier for this motion also pointing to the unfairness of the board trying to recoup money because of its negligence. “Where is the compassion in government?” he asks. He says the only reason this is an issue is because of the vendetta the city manager maintains against Walter Bayliss. Elliott amends the motion to say the council urges the retirement board to grant the waiver. Councilor Lorrey says the city should back the commitments it made. Councilor Mendonca said if it was his own money, he would certainly absorb the loss. But it’s the taxpayer’s money and it’s necessary to follow proper procedures and that’s often not pretty. He says he hopes the retirement board grants the waiver but when we discover the law is being broken, it must be corrected although it should be done compassionately. Substitute motion passes unanimously.
Motion by Councilor Elliott that the council discuss the methods of advertising vacancies on Boards and Commissions. Says even though they are posted on the city’s website but that means many won’t get notice of it. He suggests advertising the vacancies in the Lowell Sun. People will see an ad in the newspaper. He amends his motion to request the manager come back with options for doing this. Councilor Kennedy says there is sometimes inconsistency between the city website and the city manager’s blog. They should be the same or they shouldn’t be on the manager’s blog at all.
Councilor Lorrey says he has no objection to paying to advertise in the newspaper or radio but that a lot of people watch the council meetings and that might be a good time to publicize this. Motion passes unanimously.
Motion by Councilor Elliott requesting that the city council get a copy of the school committee’s report on the future of Lowell High School. The Mayor says the report is on the school department’s website. Councilor Elliott asks that the city council be provided with a hard copy.
Motion by Councilor Elliott requesting report on efforts to fill empty storefronts in downtown. Passes unanimously.
Motion by Councilor Kennedy that city manager negotiate with Chancellor Meehan regarding the lighting at Sheehy Park (which is at foot of Wilder Street at Pawtucket). The city leased spots there to the University but they are used at night but there are no lights there. Passes unanimously.
Councilor Martin congratulates those involved in the planning and execution of the City of Lights Parade especially by selecting the Marathon Bombing victims as Grand Marshalls.